SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic—Wisconsin's credit unions and their trade associations are helping their Dominican Republic counterparts develop a better regulatory environment for the Caribbean nation's financial cooperatives. Thanks to steps taken during last week's visit by executives from the Wisconsin Credit Union League (WCUL), its member institutions and the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), the country's credit unions have come closer to achieving this goal.
The visit, part of the International Partnerships program sponsored by Madison, Wis.-based WOCCU, brought state credit union and association officials together with leaders from the Asociación de Instituciones Rurales de Ahorro y Crédito (AIRAC), WCUL's counterpart in the Dominican Republic. The three organizations met with the country's Central Bank, its Superintendency of Banks and the Institute for Cooperatives in hopes of updating regulations and examination procedures that would better address specific needs of the Dominican Republic's credit unions.
The country's current legislation dates back to the 1960s. Credit unions would like to modernize it to match the industry's growth, as well as manage risks inherent with operating on a larger scale to better serve growing member demands.
"Credit unions in the Dominican Republic have an opportunity to significantly modify their legislative and regulatory environment for the first time in 45 years," said Dave Grace, WOCCU's vice president of association services. "We are happy that WOCCU and the Wisconsin Credit Union League have been able to contribute to this effort and that industry input is being sought by the country's lawmakers."
After the meeting, Dr. Pedro Silverio, CEO of the Central Bank, asked AIRAC to submit comments to the current bill before it is introduced to Congress later this year. The request marks a step forward for the country's credit unions, according to Virginio Rafael Gerardo, AIRAC general manager.
"It's a major achievement that the government asked us to give our input," Gerardo said. "I am confident that we will find a way to make the movement strong."
In addition to WOCCU executives, Wisconsin participants in the visit included Dean Wilson, WCUL chair and CEO of Focus Credit Union, Wauwatosa; Brett Thompson, WCUL president and CEO; Mary Bliss, WCUL EVP/COO; Tom Liebe, WCUL vice president of government affairs; Kim Sponem, president of Summit Credit Union, Madison; and Greg Hilbert, president of Fox Communities Credit Union, Appleton. In addition to meeting with Dominican Republic government officials, the group visited two credit unions: Cooperativa Empresarial in Santo Domingo and Cooperativa Maimón, located in a rural setting.
"It's apparent that credit unions offer financial services; in a developing country they also often become an agent of development in their communities," said Wilson. "In Maimón, for example, we could see how the community revolves around its credit union. In addition to financial services, the credit union also provides potable water to two neighborhoods, has put up street signs in town and offers all sorts of training opportunities for its members."
The Wisconsin delegation also participated with their Dominican Republic counterparts in a seminar covering a broad range of financial topics, including the U.S. economy and its global impact. WCUL's Liebe spoke on lobbying techniques. The seminar ended with an interactive panel of credit union CEOs discussing mergers, financial products and services and shared branching.
Next steps for the Wisconsin-Dominican Republic partnership may include an executive exchange program designed to teach credit union officials about their specific credit union responsibilities, officials said.
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